Tomatoes put to acid test

Like your tomato with a 'bite' or mellow?

Like your tomato with a 'bite' or mellow?

August 24, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

Red, yellow, orange or pink?

Heirloom or hybrid?

Does the skin color or breeding of a tomato really indicate whether it's less acidic and does it matter?

It's generally assumed that orange or yellow tomatoes are going to be lower in acid than red tomatoes, but that's not necessarily true, says Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist in fruits and vegetables with the Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center in Ellicott City, Md.

Some yellow varieties are high-acid and some red are low, local experts say.

For example, Jetstar, a red tomato, is low-acid, says Steve Bogash, regional horticulture educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County, Pa.


Seed catalogs usually note whether a tomato cultivar or variety is low-acid, but people shopping locally for low-acid tomatoes might be pressed to find somebody at a produce stand who knows for a fact whether their tomato is low-acid, Bogash says.

Matt Harsh knows.

Harsh and his wife, Mary, grow low- and high-acid tomatoes at their Chesley Vegetable Farms along Edgemont Road near Smithsburg and sell them at their produce stand.

In addition to providing color and diversity to their offerings, several clients prefer low-acid tomatoes, Mary Harsh says.

The Harshes' low-acid varieties are Taxi, a bright yellow saladette tomato; Carolina Gold, a big, golden, tangerine-colored tomato; and the Striped German tomato.

The gap between the pH levels of low- and high-acid tomatoes can be narrow, Traunfeld says.

However, it might make a difference to some people.

"Sometimes, people tell me they have a hard time digesting the high-acid one," getting an upset stomach, Matt Harsh says.

Then there's the taste.

The Harshes and Bogash say low-acid tomatoes tend to lack tomatoey bite, instead having a mellow flavor.

Sometimes, that flavor is sweet and sometimes not because there are many varieties, Mary Harsh says.

Traunfeld says some people, particularly old-timers, prefer high-acid tomatoes when canning because they believe it reduces the risk of botulism.

Botulism, an organism that spoils food, cannot survive at low pH levels, Traunfeld says. The lower the pH level, the more acidic the item is.

If the tomatoes are prepared properly for canning, it won't matter whether they are low- or high-acid, Traunfeld says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adding one tablespoon of lemon juice per pint or 2 tablespoons per quart to safely can tomatoes, says Lynn Little, family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County. (For more information about proper canning processes, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation at

Ultimately, when it comes to tomatoes, just buy and grow what you like, Traunfeld says.

One way to figure that out is to attend today's tomato-tasting event at the Horticulture Center on Franklin Farm Lane in Chambersburg, Pa., Bogash says.

The extension office grows a variety of tomatoes to help local noncommercial growers determine what varieties will do best in the local climate and which ones they like, Bogash says.

This morning Bogash will squeeze the juice out of a variety of tomatoes to determine their acidity level.

And, of course, he'll taste some throughout the day.

Gardening tip

If you grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or potatoes, rotate these with other crops every year. These four vegetables belong to the nightshade family, so you cannot just swap their place within the garden with another family member.

Without proper rotation, fungal diseases could become established in the garden for years, says Steve Bogash, regional horticulture educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County, Pa.

If you go ...

WHAT: Tomato Tasting Day

WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. today

WHERE: Horticulture Center on Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg, Pa.

COST: Free

DIRECTIONS: Take Interstate 81 north to exit for U.S. 30. Take U.S. 30 east. Turn left onto Franklin Farm Lane, which will be between the Sheetz and Rita's Ices, Cones, Shakes and Other Cool Stuff.

MORE: For more information, call 1-717-263-9226.

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